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Ear to the Ground

Failed Restoration of Spanish Fresco Turns Profitable

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Posted on Aug 15, 2013
Joanjo Aguar Matoses (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Spanish Ecce homo in three forms; the one on the right is Gimenez’s rendering.

About a year has passed since an elderly woman decided to retouch a painting of Christ and ended up disfiguring the religious image. The botched job, which turned into a source of humiliation for Cecilia Gimenez and spurred a series of memes, has become a lucrative endeavor. Apparently time can heal all wounds.

The small church in Borja, Spain, that houses the infamous work has received an immense influx of tourists, all eager to see Gimenez’s art. The city council decided to charge a euro entrance fee to the church, and now that the painting has attracted more than 40,000 people, it’s added up. The amateur painter’s well-intentioned deed has earned a local charity upward of €50,000 ($66,000).

And that’s without counting the profit from merchandise sales. The Guardian reports:

The council also got lawyers to establish copyright and draw up a merchandising agreement that will see the image put on plates, postcards and cigarette lighters, among other items…

Gimenez and [the] local council are to sign a deal next week to share profits from merchandise featuring the image, with the artist getting 49% and the council the rest, said councilor Juan Maria Ojeda, who listed the tourism and income figures.

The turnaround is apparently quite a relief for the Spanish retiree, who was overwhelmed by the attention a year ago. “Now it seems like everyone’s happy,” local paper Heraldo de Aragon quoted the once media-shy Gimenez as saying in Sunday’s edition. “I’m grateful that things have quieted down.”

The 81-year-old responsible for bringing this little known artwork that uses the Ecce homo (“behold the man”) motif into the spotlight held an art show that attracted thousands of visitors. And, seeing as the painting cannot be returned to its previous state, her version, nicknamed “Ecce mono” (“behold the monkey”), will outlive its predecessor.


—Posted by Natasha Hakimi

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